Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day of the Dead

In Mexico we have a tradition that is renowned worldwide: the cult of the afterlife. It is celebrated on November 2nd and it is called the Day of the Dead. The 1st is dedicated to children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2nd.

In these days people go to cemeteries to pray or communicate with the souls of the departed, many people arrive at the cemetery on the night of the 1st and stay there all the way through the 2nd. As part of the ritual, people build private altars that are dedicated to their special loved ones. These altars, called ofrendas, are one of the most wonderful things of this tradition. They are usually built with three levels, made by different types of tables and using the floor as the lowest level. In these tables they put different elements like: water, salt, cempasuchiltl flower, the food the dead liked to eat and drink when they were alive, candles, incense, copal, bread of the death (pan de muerto), etc. The ofrenda is a way to welcome to the deceased.

This tradition was started by prehispanic cultures like the Olmec, Purepechas and Aztecs. Now a days it is a mixed cult, since we have the indigenous and the Spanish mix. This mix is evident when you see that some altars have both a xoloescuincle (Mexican dog who in the prehispanic culture accompany the dead person through his way to the death) and a catholic virgin. It is very interesting to go outside the city and make a trip to visit towns that celebrate this Day. One of the best places to visit is Patzcuaro or Janitizio in Michoacán, and Mixquic a town nearby Mexico City. In these places, the Day of the Dead is still celebrated in a very traditional manner.

November 1st and 2nd and the cult of the afterlife are so important in Mexico that many artisans have incorporated it in their handcrafts. In many cases, the artisans decorate the pieces with motifs from the afterlife, such as calacas, calaveras and catrinas (stylized, colorful skulls and skeletons). For example, in Metepec, a town where they make Trees of Life, some artisans have come up with a variation on the theme and create allegories of death called Trees of the After Life (Árbol de la Muerte). In Patzcuaro, they are famous for the catrinas and calaveras made of different materials, like clay, paper or wood.

If you ever have a chance to come and visit Mexico don’t hesitated to come in the first days of November you will never forget it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Aztec Calendar or Sun Stone?

The commonly called Aztec Calendar is a basalt monolithic sculpture is about the Aztec cosmogony and its sun cults. Is also a representation of Tonatiuh, the Aztec god of the sun, around him are engraved the symbols of the days, this is why it is called calendar. The original version is currently on display at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
This piece has been point of debate because how it is called. As I mention before commonly it is called Aztec Calendar, because it have engraved the symbols of the days. But many people think that if it has engraved the symbols of day but it is not a piece designed to tell the date. This people said that the “Aztec Calendar” is really a not finish altar used for sacrifice.
What do you think? I prefer to believe that it is a not finish altar used for sacrifice. It is known that the Aztecs and others Mesoamericans cultures put in a high level the sacrifice in their cultures. And this not because they like to kill, they always have a meaning behind. They think that when they sacrifice someone they can prevent the madness of the gods or also they can invoke the kindness of the gods. I prefer called it Sun stone because it has a much strong meaning. And this represent what the Aztec culture was, full of double significance.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Have you ever been to Oaxaca? It’s a place in Mexico you don’t want to miss. One of the things that make Oaxaca such an interesting and unparalleled place is the level of sophistication that surrounds its cuisine and its regional handcrafts.
One of the most famous handcraft of Oaxaca is the “Alebrijes”. I’m sure you’ve heard about Alebrijes before. Alebrijes are brightly colored pieces of Mexican folk art made from wood or papier maché. Alebrijes are hand made by artisans in Oaxaca, making them unique regional pieces of art.

Because of their bizarre animal-like appearance, I’ve always been intrigued by the history of Alebrijes. In one of my trips to Oaxaca, an artisan by the name of Juan told me the history of these bizarre and unique crafts. The story says that . a Mexican artisan by the name of Pedro Linares, laid in bed suffering from a severe illness. In his visions he imagined bizarre and extraordinary creatures that shouted the words "Alebrijes! Alebrijes! Alebrijes!." When he recovered from his illness, Linares began to depict the creatures that haunted his dreams. The tradition spread rapidly and became one of the most recognized artistic traditions in Mexico.

Today the artisans artists that make these wonderful figures are decreasing in numbers, and most of them have ceased to work as artisans and moved to urban areas in search of better paying jobs. I am convinced that supporting these artists is a necessary step to ensure that local artisans can have a life worth living, without detaching themselves from their traditions and communities.


Olinalá is a region found in the state of Guerrero in Mexico, three hours from Acapulco and about five from Mexico City. It’s a small town where a unique tree, the Olinaloe tree, grows... What is so special about this tree is the natural scent that emanates from its wood. This natural perfume is so pleasant, that inhaling it connects us with nature

For many years, olinalo wood has been used to make special products and handcrafts. The most famous are the “Cajitas de Olinalá”, boxes or chest crafted from olinaloe wood and paint with lacquer. One of the unique features of the “Cajitas de Olinala” is that even after the tree has been cut and dried, the fragrance from its wood is preserved and when opened, you can inhale its natural perfume. The fragance of Olinaloe is so potent, that boxes crafted from its wood can preserve its unique scent for more than ten years.

Olinalá is a fascinating place where we can find unique pieces of mexican folk art, out of which the cajitas de Olinalá are one of the most representative and distinctive products.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Huichol Art

The Huichol are one of the indigenous groups that have best conserved their traditions and their artistic and cultural characteristics in spite of their population's being of about 18,000. This is because they live in isolated communities near the Sierra Occidental (Western Sierra Madre) in the states of Durango, Jalisco, Nayarit and Zacatecas where their community structure or religious beliefs are barely touched by other cultures.

Huichol art is recognized around the world due to its originality and colorfulness. It allows us to enter and view part of the Huichol world, for their artwork represents stories and legends of their worldview. Huichol people use art to encode and channel sacred knowledge, insuring the continuity and survival of the legacy left to them by their pre-Columbian ancestors. Art represents for them a prayer that provides direct communication and participation with the sacred realm.
Some representative forms of art that show the uniqueness of the Huichol people and their way of thinking are: Symbolic paintings and Jaguar heads.

Symbolic paintings
Symbolic drawings are the most common among the Huichol. This is not due to any simplicity of production, but rather because they represent their worldview. The design of each painting is drawn over a wooden and then covered with string, creating magnificent images. In traditional Huichol communities, an important ritual artifact is the nieli'ka: a small square or round tablet with a hole in the center covered on one or both sides with a mixture of beewax and pine resin into which threads of yarn are pressed. Nieli'kas are found in most Huichol sacred places such as house shrines (xiriki), temples, springs and caves.
Each painting displays the spiritual journey that the indigenous people had made using Peyote to get closer to the sacred world and the different representations of gods. In the same way each of this drawing expresses a part of the religious beliefs of Huichols

Jaguar Head
Hiuichol art is also characterized by the representation of the jaguar, but especially for the creation of jaguar heads. The creation of a single piece involves numerous hours of careful work by the artisans. First, the artisan carves the shape of the jaguar head out of wood. Afterwards, he draws onto the head the symbols and designs he wants to represent. The head is then covered with a layer of Campeche wax and each bead is carefully placed on the head, one by one. The beads are carefully selected according to the colors corresponding to the gods or goddess that they represent and the specific interpretation of the story that the artist wishes to highlight. For example blue signifies Rapawiyeme (Rapa is the tree of rain); black is Tatei Aramara (the Pacific Ocean, place of the dead or great serpent of rain); red indicates Wirikuta, (location of the birthplace of peyote, deer and the eagle). All of this results in a work of art that is entirely unique which is used to tell a story of the spiritual relationship between the Huichol people and nature.

For further and more specific information about Huichol art and rituals please refer to the Related Links listed above.